John Kerry: Time running out in Iran nuclear row

John Kerry arrived in Turkey at the weekend ahead of talks about Syria's civil war and Middle East peace. Picture: Getty
John Kerry arrived in Turkey at the weekend ahead of talks about Syria's civil war and Middle East peace. Picture: Getty
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US SECRETARY of state John Kerry said yesterday world powers would pursue further talks with Iran to resolve a decade-old dispute over its nuclear programme, but stressed the process could not go on forever.

Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany failed again to bridge the gap at weekend talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan, prolonging a stand-off that could yet spiral into a new Middle East war. No new talks were scheduled between the parties.

“This is not an interminable process,” said Mr Kerry after arriving in Istanbul yesterday on the first leg of a ten-day trip to the Middle East, Europe and Asia.

He said US president Barack Obama was committed to continuing the diplomatic process despite what he called the complicating factor of an Iranian presidential election in June.

“Diplomacy is a painful task … and a task for the patient,” Mr Kerry told a news conference.

Israeli strategic affairs minister Yuval Steinitz urged the powers yesterday to set a deadline of weeks for military action to persuade Iran to halt its nuclear enrichment activity.

Mr Steinitz, who is close to prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said on Army Radio that action should be taken within “a few weeks, a month” if Iran did not stop its sensitive nuclear programme, which Israel sees as a threat to its existence.

Western powers suspect Iran is trying to develop the means to produce nuclear weapons behind the guise of a declared civilian atomic energy programme.

Iran denies the accusation.

Tehran accuses Israel of threatening peace in the region and refuses to recognise the Jewish state, which is widely believed to harbour the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the US, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany in talks with Iran, said the two sides failed to resolve key differences during the two-day talks in Almaty.

“It is important to continue to talk and to try to find common ground,” Mr Kerry said.

The six powers want the Islamic Republic to suspend its higher-grade uranium enrichment work in return for modest relief from international sanctions, an offer Iran did not accept.

Some diplomats and experts have said Iran’s June presidential election has raised uncertainty in the West over the Islamic Republic’s strategy for nuclear diplomacy.

“Obviously there is an election and that complicates the choices with respect to the politics of Iran, and we are aware of that,” Mr Kerry said.

“But we will continue. The president [Obama] has determined to continue to pursue the diplomatic channel.”

Alaeddin Boroujerdi said the talks were “considered effective and a step forward,” but he added, “the Islamic Republic of Iran will never stop uranium enrichment activities.”

Mr Boroujerdi, who heads a parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy, said the talks should continue.

“If one day the [Iranian] administration decides to close down Fordo, the parliament will oppose the decision, definitely,” Mr Boroujerdi was quoted as saying. He said Iran will continue reinforcing the plant because of foreign threats.

Ali Akbar Velayati, an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, blamed the West for failure at the weekend talks. “The talks showed that the West is not honest in its remarks,” he told reporters. He said Western powers cannot achieve progress “if they do not acknowledge Iran’s natural rights” to enrich uranium.

Mr Velayati is seen as a leading candidate for June elections to pick a successor to president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.